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The Future of the Debar Lodge | Why It's Important

By: Charlotte Staats - Adirondack Council Conservation Assistant
Monday, May 10, 2021

The Debar Lodge is an Adirondack great camp located in the northern region of the Adirondack Park in the Town of Duane, Franklin County. The Lodge was privately owned until the state took full ownership of it in 2004 after a 25-year lease with the previous owner expired. When this happened, the Lodge became a non-conforming use within Adirondack Forest Preserve lands and a highly debated topic.

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Non-Conforming Use on the Forest Preserve

To comprehend why the Debar Lodge is such a “hot topic,” we need to look at and understand the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP).

To guide their management, the Master Plan outlines nine categories Forest Preserve lands can be classified as, based on their capacity to withstand use and the characteristics of the land. It also defines what uses and structures are allowed under each classification. Buildings are only allowed in certain categories and for specific uses, such as those necessary state administrative uses. Because of their location, when the Debar Lodge and associated buildings became part of the Forest Preserve, they were classified as part of the 82,000-acre Debar Mountain Wild Forest Area. Buildings are not allowed in Wild Forest Areas. Therefore, the Debar Lodge and its buildings are considered to be illegal structures, or non-conforming uses, on the Forest Preserve.

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The Future of the Debar Lodge

The future of the Debar Lodge is now at the forefront because the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the state agency that manages Forest Preserve lands, is deciding on how best to manage the entire Debar Mountain Wild Forest Area. This includes the fate of the Debar Lodge and its associated buildings.

There are significant differences amongst stakeholders as to what should be done with the Debar Lodge. Some groups want the Lodge and the buildings to be torn down. Others see the Lodge and surroundings as a potential Historic area – a formal SLMP classification – for public educational programs and lodging. There are many alternatives, but all require regulatory and sometimes constitutional changes, and all will have different impacts on the natural resources of this area.

The Process

In the fall of 2020, the DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) sought public input on a Draft Unit Management Plan (UMP) and Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) for the Debar Mountain Wild Forest area. These documents include a proposal to reclassify approximately 41 acres from Wild Forest to Intensive Use and remove the Debar Lodge and other buildings, and replace them with the Debar Lodge Day Use Area. To clarify, Day Use Area is not a formal SLMP classification; rather, it falls under the umbrella of Intensive Use.  

The Adirondack Council appreciates that the DEC has made planning for the Debar Mountain Wild Forest a priority and supports a goal of bringing the unit into compliance with the State Land Master Plan. However, these documents do not include specific and detailed information on the potentially significant adverse environmental impacts the proposed Debar Lodge Day Use Area will have on this area as required by New York’s State Environmental Review Act (SEQRA). The DEC also fails to identify and propose any mitigation efforts to address these impacts. For these reasons, the Adirondack Council opposes the proposed Debar Lodge Day Use Area.

The Council’s Concerns

Impacts of Intensive Use

The Adirondack Council urged the DEC to modify the Draft UMP to include information on what the impacts to the wild forest character of these lands would be if this area is reclassified as Intensive Use. The building of the proposed 41-acre Debar Lodge Day Use Area will substantially change the amount of use occurring in this area. Unfortunately, in the newer version of the Draft UMP, the DEC failed to include any analyses on the potential significant adverse impacts that will occur on the land or ways to address them.

Additionally, the Council questions if there is a need for a new day-use area and the costs of its development and maintenance. The Meacham Lake Campground and Day Use Area and Buck Pond Campground and Day Use Area are two, more accessible and well-established Intensive Use Areas that currently provide access to the Debar Mountain Complex. Both are less than 20 miles from the proposed new day use area. The DEC already needs to make improvements at these existing facilities and address issues, such as protecting water resources from known erosion. The DEC needs to consider how the new proposed Debar Lodge Day Use Area will impact the current Intensive Use Areas in the same Forest Preserve unit.

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Wetlands and Clean Water

In January 2021, the Adirondack Council issued initial comments on the updated Debar Mountain Complex DGEIS and Draft UMP for the proposed Debar Lodge Day Use Area. The Council believes that the draft environmental impact statements lack critical information about potential impacts and mitigation measures and suggested that the DEC supplement them before moving forward in the public review process.

Specifically, the Adirondack Park Agency’s wetlands’ maps show that there may be substantial wetlands on the lands proposed for the new day-use area. Wetlands that might potentially be affected by the construction of the Debar Lodge Day Use Area and proposed trails must be delineated. In addition, any loss of wetlands and the potential for erosion or wastewater impacts must be evaluated. The DEC must consider alternatives that avoid or mitigate wetland impacts, including the development of a Storm Water Prevention Plan for during and after the Day Use Area’s construction.

Also, these documents are missing a complete inventory of the historic structures and features associated with the Debar Lodge.

Alternatives to the Debar Lodge Day Use Area

An alternative to the construction of the Debar Lodge Day Use Area proposed by the Debar Pond Institute is the preservation of the Debar Lodge via Constitutional Amendment. A similar amendment was done for Great Camp Sagamore. This would preserve the historic lodge and maintain all but six acres of land surrounding it as Wild Forest. In the proposal, public access to Debar Pond would be maintained, and a non-profit organization would run the Lodge for public educational purposes. This amendment could be a “win-win” for the Forest Preserve, the public, and historic preservation.

The Council is in conceptual support for this proposal so long as lands of sufficient quality and quantity are made part of the Forest Preserve in exchange. The Council awaits a specific, detailed proposal to review before expressing an opinion on the possibility of supporting a Constitutional Amendment.

Next Steps

The DEC and APA are in the process of reviewing public comments and preparing a Final UMP and Generic Environmental Impact Statement for the existing Debar Mountain Wild Forest UMP and the proposed Debar Lodge Day Use Area reclassification. When they are completed, both agencies will present the management plan and reclassification to the APA Board for consideration for approval.  

The Adirondack Council is dedicated to preserving the natural resources of this area and the sanctity of the Forest Preserve.  

 

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Charlotte joined the Adirondack Council as the Executive and Program Assistant in April 2020 and transitioned to the Conservation Assistant position in January 2021. She is responsible for providing programmatic support, review, analysis, and research of significant conservation and environmental policy issues that the Council engages on. Charlotte networks with academic, governmental, and non-profit entities, monitor for emerging conservation issues and assist in the development of related Council policies and positions. Charlotte grew up in Westport and spent five seasons working for the Adirondack Mountain Club's professional trail crew. Beyond going outside to enjoy the natural world whenever she can, Charlotte also loves to watercolor, dance to live music, cook, and spend time with her family and friends.

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